There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.
I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.
Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.
Chapter 1: The Light of the Word
27 Christ proposed as the distinctive sign of his disciples the law of love and the gift of self for others (cf. Mt 22:39; Jn 13:34).
I like to say this more boldly: true love is sacrifice. In the media we see many false forms of love, especially infatuation and romantic feelings. These are part of love but not the most important. Infatuation and romantic feelings come and go in a relationship. Any relationship based solely on feelings will not last. Conversely, a relationship based on sacrifice endures. This love is not limited to dating and marriage but should be present to some extent in all relationships. The world would be a better place if more people understood this and strove to live by it. Thankfully, there are a lot of good people out there that sacrifice for others, but there are many who never lift a finger for others or do so very sparingly.
28 There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological.
As humans we have both a spiritual side and a physical side, but the spiritual side is hard to sense because it is invisible to our physical senses. We do have a spiritual sense though, which is love. The deep love between mother and child is so great that many times the mother and child are completely at peace with each other. In these moments they have no need for words. It is a spiritual connection more than a physical one. This is also why connecting with God requires silence more than anything else. We cannot receive peace and guidance from God through prayer in the presence of noise and chaos. We must retreat from the world, whether that means praying in a quiet room or making a trip to some remote place. Refer to my commentary on 12-2 in Part 1 [LINK] for more on the silence of love.
Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families
32 It is…evident that “the principal tendencies in anthropological-cultural changes” are leading “individuals, in personal and family life, to receive less and less support from social structures than in the past”.
These days, parents have to work so much they don’t have much time to spend with their children. They might also have to move far away for work, so they have a harder time getting help from their their parents or grandparents. This is one of the problems of the day that the Church needs to provide direction for. Our culture needs to transform in a way that the good behavior of parents serving their children is valued and promoted by every person and society as a whole. In addition to the Church, government and charities can also work towards this goal.
It’s important to realize that every period in history has good things and bad things. As bad as it is for families these days, there are other good things to be happy about. For example, a really good thing now is the acceptance of homeschooling. Whether by choice or out of necessity the option to homeschool allows parents to guarantee their children will be raised in a religious environment. The key challenge of every generation is maintaining the areas we have made positive change in while replacing or transforming the areas with negative change.
33 “The tensions created by an overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and hostility in families”.
A few years back I started noticing a lot of problems in society all went back to the family. When a child grows up in a broken family, it greatly affects the decisions they will later make in life. When that takes hold on a grand scale over several generations, which is what’s currently happening in the West, it causes massive damage to society and even to the nation. If this problem is not addressed, the United States will collapse. There is no question. It might take a while, but it will happen eventually if we cannot turn things around.
So many children these days witness the suffering of another and make a crude remark like, “sucks to be you”. In many cases their behavior has devolved to that of an animal. They act on instinct and believe in survival of the fittest. This is not progress but regression. These children then grow up to create broken families which leads to more broken families. This cycle will not be broken until we can evangelize these people on the way of love. The way of love is the way of Jesus. The Catholic faith is emulating Jesus’ life.
One of the key parts of the Catholic faith is the Golden Rule: “treat others as you would want others to treat yourself”. Living by this rule forces you to imagine what it would be like in another person’s shoes which leads to understanding of others and ultimately selflessness. Without religion, many people don’t really have that driving goal to treat others well. There’s some direction from education and our laws, since these have their foundation in the Christian faith of our forefathers, but they are clearly not enough. People must believe in a religion of love for real change to happen.
34-1 [The family] can come to be seen as a way station, helpful when convenient, or a setting in which rights can be asserted while relationships are left to the changing winds of personal desire and circumstances.
So many times these days I see a family that rarely spends any time together. Each member is doing their own thing, barely helping each other. I don’t think parents ever set out to create a disconnected family. It’s something that just happens. Once everyone has gotten used to having their way, it’s very hard to get them to change. I think the key to change is starting small.
The parents, of course, have to come together and agree that the family needs to spend more time together. Then they can start a new practice like eating one meal together as a family each day. The children will definitely protest, but the parents must be persistent until the habit is formed. With one positive change implemented, the next can be started. A few years later the family may look totally different with everyone much closer to each other. Change is not easy, especially over the long run, but the increase in love and happiness within the family more than makes up for it.
34-2 The ideal of marriage, marked by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome.
This is what happens when a married couple doesn’t have true love. True love is more than just the feeling of love. It’s the choice to be with someone through thick and thin for life. In the Catholic wedding vows, the Church calls on the bride and groom to accept that sacrifice: “I promise to be faithful to [you] in good times and in bad…all the days of [my] life.” See my commentary on 27 above for more information.
36 Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns.
It’s good that Pope Francis admits mistakes by the Church, mainly not supporting and guiding young people towards good, strong marriages. This was a huge problem in the past. I regularly see stories of Catholic couples who went into marriage with impossible expectations because they never received instruction on what marriage is supposed to be. It’s no surprise that many of them ended up divorcing a few decades later when the marriage became difficult.
These days most parishes at least require couples discerning marriage to do marriage preparation founded on Church teaching. This is an improvement, but waiting until couples are a few months from their wedding date is too late to make a real difference. Instead, much critical marriage teaching should be taught during the teenage years. Then marriage preparation would be a reinforcement of what the couple already knows plus a few discussions on more mature topics that would be inappropriate outside the engagement period.
Of course, we wouldn’t want to influence young people away from vocations of consecrated life and the priesthood, so the teaching during teenage years would need to cover all vocations. After all, every vocation is in decline these days, even marriage. Many parishes already have year long Confirmation programs, so why not a year long vocation program? The Church could recommend parents enroll their teenagers in this program in preparation for their futures. For engaged couples that didn’t take the program, the recommendation would be to take an adult version of the program the first year after marriage.
Support before marriage is only half of the equation though. Newly married couples also need support. Most parishes do have family activities, but they tend to be more about socializing than support. Newlyweds have to do a lot of the leg work finding experienced couples that are willing to support them through trials. It would be better if there was a more concerted effort to support newlyweds at the parish level. Some parishes already do well, but in others couples are only given a little marriage preparation and then left on their own. This would be a great opportunity for more experienced couples to volunteer to help new couples build the skills they need for successful marriages.
37 We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations.
This statement is potentially confusing. By saying people can form their consciences on their own, it appears Pope Francis is saying right and wrong is solely based on what their conscience tells them. This is not the case. He is actually saying that people can have many logical explanations for their sinful actions. They may be wrong in God’s eyes, but they make sense to the individual. Rather than throwing out that logic entirely, the Church should work with the individual to explain which parts of their logic are correct and which are incorrect. For anything that is incorrect, the Church can then provide the next small step towards holiness. Many small steps over time lead to many miles and eventually, complete transformation into the image of God.
Strong statements meant to scare people into returning to the truth do not work. People need patient, gentle correction to put them back on course. Imagine a close friend was divorced and remarried without an annulment. You wouldn’t try to scare them with strong words like, “You’re going to hell if you don’t change your ways!”. Instead, you would try to understand why they made that decision, explain how their life doesn’t fit Church teaching, and give suggestions for improvement. All this would be done with patience. Rushing just frustrates people. Without patience, you only push them further away, possibly never to come back again. This is what faces the whole Church, both clergy and lay people.
38-1 Nowadays we are grateful too for the witness of marriages that have not only proved lasting, but also fruitful and loving.
Continuing my commentary for 36 above, those entering into marriage can easily be discouraged by the early trials. The critical time when the initial romance wears off sets the tone for the rest of the marriage. If the newly married have the support of couples whose marriages have stood the test of time, they will have a much higher chance of success. Experienced couples have wisdom and knowledge about how to make a marriage work. They can make a huge difference in the success of newer marriages. This is something I hope the Church leadership will call for more in parishes.
38-2 Yet we have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.
All Catholics are guilty of this. We see the ideal and then see how far away others are from that ideal. We can develop a habit of criticizing others or only talking about the bad. It’s true that Catholics are called to admonish the sinner, but we are also called to feed the sick and clothe the naked. Most times, admonishment should be between family and close friends, not strangers. Even then it shouldn’t be the only thing you do with friends and family. People follow positive people. If we are always negative, we can never lead anyone to God.
Having said this, the only way to improve ourselves is to identify problems, find solutions, and implement the solutions. Jesus said he came not for the righteous but for the sinners (Lk 5:32). The righteous were already doing good. It was the sinners that needed help. They cannot be helped without ignoring their sins. All this is to say we need to be positive and hopeful in our admonishment. In any correction, focus on the end result of peace, happiness, joy, and true love. When people can see the result, they are more than willing to make the necessary yet painful sacrifices.
Don’t say, “You better not do that or God will punish you.” Instead say, “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. I think you’ll be happier if you do this instead.” In some cases you might take things a step further with, “I’d love to help you with this. Just let me know.” You are taking on a sacrifice to help them, but sometimes knowing someone is there for them is just what they need to take the first step.
Read the other parts:
May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,